City slam Brentford over late call-off

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The Independent Online
As two more FA Cup third-round games were lost to the weather last night, furious Manchester City have protested to the Football Association over the circumstances surrounding the last-minute postponement of their tie at Brentford on Tuesday.

Last night's tie between Coventry City and Woking and the replay between West Ham and Wrexham were postponed owing to frost and fog respectively. On Tuesday referee Mick Fletcher ruled Brentford's Griffin Park pitch unplayable just two hours before kick-off, with around 1,000 City fans making the 200-mile journey to London.

The Maine Road club, whose directors only found out about the referee's decision via the radio as they travelled to the match, are unhappy Brentford failed to plan for the freeze setting in.

"The situation is unacceptable to us. I have made a strong protest to the FA and made my point to Brentford," the City secretary, Bernard Halford, said.

"There should have been more consideration given to the prevailing weather conditions. And consideration should certainly have been given to the fans who had to travel long distances with all the costs involved, and to getting the referee there well in advance."

West Bromwich-based referee Fletcher arrived at the ground three hours before kick-off and, after two inspections, ruled the pitch unplayable. He admitted: "Brentford officials were apparently trying to contact me in the afternoon. I was on my way but don't have a mobile telephone.

"I left home at 1500hrs and was told the pitch was playable then. But I don't think Brentford were anticipating the temperature would drop so severely. Nobody contacted me and I didn't know anything about the pitch inspection until I arrived at the ground. It's up to the club to get in touch with me.

"At 17.30 I looked at the pitch and one side was badly affected by frost. I appreciate the fans had travelled a long way, but we must take note of the weather conditions, and players' safety is first on the agenda."

Halford added: "The first check should have been made on Monday night. If the referee could not get there, the FA should have appointed someone else to go. The pitch should have been inspected at 1100 on Tuesday and the referee should have been in contact with the weather centre at the same time.

"He would have been told what the weather would be in London during the course of the day. I believe he would have been told it would freeze in the afternoon. That would have helped him make his decision, but I also believe Brentford have left themselves open to complaint."

Brentford and City were not the only ones to suffer. Luton's tie against Bolton was called off less than an hour before kick-off, and referee Phil Richards blamed a freak drop in temperature when he postponed the match between Watford and Oxford United minutes before the teams were set to take the field at Vicarage Road.

Referee Paul Alcock came under fire from both sides after the game between Gillingham and Derby was abandoned after 66 minutes at Priestfield Stadium. Alcock, who had inspected the pitch from 1700 until 1920 before giving the match the go-ahead, said: "When we came out for the second half, a quarter of the field was affected by frost and, to me, it looked dangerous."